I am so grateful for the teachings of Master Liu He of Ling Gui International Healing Qigong School. Please join me in practicing this meditation to give the gift of compassion and create peace on Earth.
by Andrew Hafenbrack and Zoe Kinias
Practice more than just a passing management fad as it can play role in decision-making and bring changes to emotions and behaviour
Mindfulness meditation is a practice that cultivates awareness of the present moment and clears the mind of other thoughts, often accomplished by non-judgmentally focusing attention on the physical sensations of breathing or other experience as it occurs.
Top-level managers appear to be highly interested in mindfulness at the moment, as evidenced by recent sessions on meditation at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and a cover story about mindfulness in Time magazine.
Chief executives of major companies such as Ford Motor, Salesforce.com and Tupperware have publicly touted the benefits of meditation. Organisations as varied as Google and the United States military have instituted internal mindfulness-based training programmes for their employees.
At Insead – in Singapore and abroad – professors incorporate meditation into executive and MBA courses.
Although there is a risk that some may write off mindfulness as pop psychology or a management fad, it is more than that.
The practice dates back more than 2,000 years to the Pali canon of Theravada Buddhism, and Western clinical psychologists have used secular mindfulness meditation training to effectively combat anxiety and depression for several decades.
There are many articles in academic journals, particularly in the fields of cognitive psychology and neuroscience, that document the benefits of meditation.
Meditating regularly increases how much people habitually focus on the present moment relative to the past and future at times when they are not meditating, a tendency psychologists call trait mindfulness.
Research has linked increased trait mindfulness to increased positive emotions and decreases in several forms of negative emotion, such as rumination, depression, anxiety and anger.
Previous research has also found evidence of other benefits, linking greater trait mindfulness to decreased substance abuse, improved psychological functioning, increased self-control, decreased overconfident gambling, decreased distraction from the task at hand and improved test performance.
For example, a state of mindfulness has been found to reduce short-term negative emotions, distraction from the task at hand and the impact of negative information on attitudes and persistence.
In other words, we were interested in whether mindfulness meditation could reduce what economists call the sunk-cost fallacy or the sunk-cost bias, which is the tendency to continue an endeavour after having already invested time, effort or money.
We collaborated with Professor Sigal Barsade from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania on a research article that appeared in the February issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Our key finding is that mindfulness meditation increased resistance to the sunk-cost bias, and this occurred in a two-step process.
First, meditation reduced how much people focused on the past and future, and this psychological shift led to less negative emotion. The reduced negative emotion then facilitated their ability to let go of sunk costs.
Our findings can help managers and businesspeople, because there are so many cases in which the sunk-cost bias can destroy value.
For example, people often hold on to losing investments for too long. Businesses often continue with projects even when the costs increase dramatically or their product is less unique or marketable than it initially appeared.
Governments often continue fighting wars they know they cannot win. Managers can be reluctant to fire massively underperforming employees who they hired with great expectations.
In all of these cases, resources are wasted that could have been used more productively in another endeavour, whether that is a more promising investment or project, peacekeeping efforts, or a new hire who is a better fit for the organisation.
Our advice is that when people need to make decisions about whether to change course, that is a great moment to step back, clear one’s mind by meditating, and approach the decision again.
A potentially helpful question to ask oneself is: “Would I continue this endeavour because I truly think it is the best decision in light of all available evidence or because I am reluctant to let go after having invested so much?” As to how to briefly meditate, there are many excellent free recorded meditations available online, such as those from freemindfulness.org
There are also meditation classes and trainers in all major cities and excellent books on the subject by Thich Nhat Hanh and Jon Kabat-Zinn.
More broadly, our findings suggest that even people with little experience meditating can use mindfulness meditation in small doses at times when they need it, such as when experiencing excessive negative emotions or stress, or when thinking too much about the past or future.
For these reasons, mindfulness should be more than a passing fad, and instead a tool people keep at their disposal for use when it can be helpful.
People and corporations should seriously consider the role mindfulness meditation can play in mental and emotional well-being, task performance and decision-making.
Andrew Hafenbrack is a doctoral candidate in organisational behaviour and Zoe Kinias an assistant professor of organisational behaviour at Insead.
Advances in methodology are allowing researchers to integrate mindfulness experiences with brain imaging and neural signal data to form testable hypotheses about the science – and the reported mental health benefits – of the practice.
A team of Brown University researchers, led by junior Juan Santoyo, will present their research approach at 2:45 p.m on Saturday, April 5, 2014, at the 12th Annual International Scientific Conference of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Their methodology employs a structured coding of the reports meditators provide about their mental experiences. That can be rigorously correlated with quantitative neurophysiological measurements.
Now researchers are gaining the tools to trace experiences described by meditators to specific activity in the brain.
“We’re going to [discuss] how this is applicable as a general tool for the development of targeted mental health treatments,” Santoyo said. “We can explore how certain experiences line up with certain patterns of brain activity. We know certain patterns of brain activity are associated with certain psychiatric disorders.”
Structuring the spiritual
At the conference, the team will frame these broad implications with what might seem like a small distinction: whether meditators focus on their sensations of breathing in their nose or in their belly. The two meditation techniques hail from different East Asian traditions. Carefully coded experience data gathered by Santoyo, Kerr, and Harold Roth, professor of religious studies at Brown, show that the two techniques produced significantly different mental states in student meditators.
“We found that when students focused on the breath in the belly their descriptions of experience focused on attention to specific somatic areas and body sensations,” the researchers wrote in their conference abstract. “When students described practice experiences related to a focus on the nose during meditation, they tended to describe a quality of mind, specifically how their attention ‘felt’ when they sensed it.”
The ability to distill a rigorous distinction between the experiences came not only from randomly assigning meditating students to two groups – one focused on the nose and one focused on the belly – but also by employing two independent coders to perform standardized analyses of the journal entries the students made immediately after meditating.
This kind of structured coding of self-reported personal experience is called “grounded theory methodology.” Santoyo’s application of it to meditation allows for the formation of hypotheses.
For example, Kerr said, “Based on the predominantly somatic descriptions of mindfulness experience offered by the belly-focused group, we would expect there to be more ongoing, resting-state functional connectivity in this group across different parts of a large brain region called the insula that encodes visceral, somatic sensations and also provides a readout of the emotional aspects of so-called ‘gut feelings’.”
Unifying experience and the brain
The next step is to correlate the coded experiences data with data from the brain itself. A team of researchers led by Kathleen Garrison at Yale University, including Santoyo and Kerr, did just that in a paper in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in August 2013. The team worked with deeply experienced meditators to correlate the mental states they described during mindfulness with simultaneous activity in the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). They measured that with real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging.
Hay fever and other allergies could be made worse by stress, and some scientists believe meditation and breathing exercises may be the key to relieving flare ups, according to a report by the Daily Mail.
“Stress can cause several negative effects on the body, including causing more symptoms for allergy sufferers,” Dr Amber Patterson, from the Ohio State University Medical Centre said in the report. “Our study also found those with more frequent allergy flares also have a greater negative mood, which may be leading to these flares.”
Researchers looked at 179 patients over 12 weeks and monitored their allergies, and the study was published in the journal “Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,” revealing the 39 percent who had more than one allergy flare-up had higher stress levels than the rest of the group.
Also, a number of those tested said they had allergy flare-ups that coincided with how stressed they were feeling. Researchers suggested meditation, deep breathing, and avoiding smoking and coffee could help keep stress levels down, and a healthy diet and regular exercise may also reduce symptoms.
“Symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes can cause added stress for allergy sufferers, and may even be the root of stress for some,” said Dr. Patterson. “While alleviating stress won’t cure allergies, it may help decrease episodes of intense symptoms.”
The NIH community was delighted to welcome His Holiness the Dalai Lama on March 7 to present the annual NIH J. Edward Rall Cultural Lecture, in which he discussed “The Role of Science in Human Flourishing.” Not surprisingly, the event—a conversation between the Dalai Lama and NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins—drew a large and engaged audience.
While the Dalai Lama was here, I was privileged to be among a small group to accompany him for a visit with a child enrolled in an NIH Clinical Center study on rehabilitation for childhood cerebral palsy. Researchers at NIH are interested in learning how physical exercise and training in rehabilitation affect the neuroplasticity of the childhood brain. The Dalai Lama’s warmth, infectious laugh, and curiosity about the research completely won over both patients and staff.
NCCAM grantee Richard Davidson, Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison accompanied him during the visit and has worked with the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan monks to examine how the mental exercise of meditation might impact the brain in order to improve health and well-being. Here at NCCAM, we have held a long interest in the research of meditation for health purposes and have supported a number of studies. Past studies have established an association with changes in the electrical function of the brain; more recent studies indicate possible neuroanatomic changes associated with the practice of meditation.
It was fascinating to hear the Dalai Lama’s insights on the connection between science and the human condition—for example, the biological impacts of a mother’s loving touch on her newborn’s development. I am intrigued and look forward to continuing our research on how the brain is changed by varying emotional states and how that affects our physiology.
Original post: http://nccam.nih.gov/research/blog/Dalai-Lama?nav=rss
BY EVGENY MOROZOV of The New Republic
In yet another sign that the new age lingo of the 1960s is still very much with us, “mindfulness” has become the new “sustainability”: No one quite knows what it is, but everyone seems to be for it. It recently made the cover of Time magazine, while a long list of celebrities—Arianna Huffington, Deepak Chopra, Paolo Coelho—are all tirelessly preaching the virtues of curbing technology-induced stress and regulating the oppressiveness of constant connectivity, often at conferences with titles like “Wisdom 2.0.”
The embrace of the mindfulness agenda by the technology crowd is especially peculiar. Consider Huffington, whose eponymous publication has even launched a stress-tracking app with the poetic name of “GPS for the Soul”—a new app to fight the distraction caused by the old apps—and turned the business of mindfulness into a dedicated beat. Or take Google’s chairman, Eric Schmidt, who has warned that we need to define times when we are “on” and “off” and announced his commitment to make his meals gadget-free. There are also apps and firms that, at a fee, will help you enforce your own “digital sabbath,” undertake a “digital detox,” or join like-minded refuseniks in a dedicated camp that bars all devices. Never before has connectivity offered us so many ways to disconnect.
In essence, we are being urged to unplug—for an hour, a day, a week—so that we can resume our usual activities with even more vigor upon returning to the land of distraction. Here the quest for mindfulness plays the same role as Buddhism. In our maddeningly complex world, where everything is in flux and defies comprehension, the only reasonable attitude is to renounce any efforts at control and adopt a Zen-like attitude of non-domination. Accept the world as it is—and simply try to find a few moments of peace in it. The reactionary tendency of such an outlook is easy to grasp. As the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek once quipped, “If Max Weber were alive today, he would definitely write a second, supplementary, volume to his Protestant Ethic, entitled The Taoist Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capitalism.” And what a wonderful Kindle Single that would make!
CEOs embrace mindfulness for the same reason that they embrace all the other forms of the “new spirit of capitalism,” be it yoga in the workplace or flip-flops in the boardroom: Down with alienation, long live transgression and emancipation! No wonder Huffington hopes that the pursuit of mindfulness can finally reconcile spirituality and capitalism. “There is a growing body of scientific evidence that shows that these two worlds are, in fact, very much aligned—or at least that they can, and should, be,” she wrote in a recent column. “So yes, I do want to talk about maximizing profits and beating expectations—by emphasizing the notion that what’s good for us as individuals is also good for corporate America’s bottom line.”
But couldn’t the “disconnectionists”—asone critic has recently dubbed this emerging social movement—pursue an agenda a tad more radical than “digital detoxification”? For one, the language of “detox” implies our incessant craving for permanent connectivity is a medical condition—as if the fault entirely resided with consumers. And that reflects a broader flaw in their thinking: The disconnectionists don’t seem to have a robust political plan for addressing their concerns; it’s all about small-scale individual action. “Individuals unplugging is not actually an answer to the biggest technological problems of our time just as any individual’s local, organic dietary habits don’t solve global agriculture’s issues,” complained the technology critic Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic.
Note that it’s the act of disconnection—the unplugging—that becomes the target of criticism, as if there are no good reasons to be suspicious of the always-on mode championed by Silicon Valley, what is called “real-time.” Madrigal, for example, draws an intriguing parallel between our attitudes to processed foods (once celebrated for their contribution to social mobility but now widely condemned, at least by the upper classes) and processed communications (by which, he means all digital interactions). Like processed foods, social media and text messages are increasingly perceived as inferior, giving rise to an odd form of technophobic—but extremely artisanal—living. As Madrigal sardonically observes, “[T]he solution is to make local friends, hang out organically, and only communicate through means your Grandma would recognize. It’s so conservative it’s radical!”
There’s some truth to this, but in their efforts to reveal the upper-class biases of the “digital detox” crowd—by arguing, for example, that the act of unplugging falls somewhere between wearing vintage clothes and consuming artisanal cheese—critics like Madrigal risk absolving the very exploitative strategies of Twitter and Facebook.
So far, our debate about distraction has hinged on the assumption that the feelings of anxiety and personal insecurity that we experience when interacting with social media are the natural price we pay for living in what some technology pundits call “the attention economy.”
But what if this economy is not as autonomous and self-regulating as we are lead to believe? Twitter, for instance, nudges us to check how many people have interacted with our tweets. That nagging temptation to trace the destiny of our every tweet, in perpetuity and with the most comprehensive analytics, is anything but self-evident. The business agenda is obvious: The more data we can surrender—by endlessly clicking around—the more appealing Twitter looks to advertisers. But what is in Twitter’s business interest is not necessarily in our communicative interest.
We must subject social media to the kind of scrutiny that has been applied to the design of gambling machines in Las Vegas casinos. As Natasha Dow Schüll shows in her excellent book Addiction By Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, while casino operators want us to think that addiction is the result of our moral failings or some biological imbalance, they themselves are to blame for designing gambling machines in a way that feeds addiction. With social media—much like with gambling machines or fast food—our addiction is manufactured, not natural.
In other words, why we disconnect matters: We can continue in today’s mode of treating disconnection as a way to recharge and regain productivity, or we can view it as a way to sabotage the addiction tactics of the acceleration-distraction complex that is Silicon Valley. The former approach is reactionary but the latter can lead to emancipation, especially if such acts of refusal give rise to genuine social movements that will make problems of time and attention part of their political agendas—and not just the subject of hand-wringing by the Davos-based spirituality brigades. Hopefully, these movements will then articulate alternative practices, institutions, and designs. If it takes an act of unplugging to figure out how to do it, let’s disconnect indeed. But let us not do it for the sake of reconnecting on the very same terms as before. We must be mindful of all this mindfulness.
Evgeny Morozov is a senior editor at The New Republic.
Special to The Globe and Mail
When I had my son James, I tried to be mindful for the first time in my life.
I had practised yoga and meditation and read books on Buddhism and spiritual enlightenment before. I even did a 10-day juice detox during which I hallucinated colours while in a particularly intense reiki session. But I don’t think much of it sank in. I’d go through these phases of “being present” while half-starving on brown rice and spirulina tea and then return to eating canapé dinners and moaning about my charming commitment-phobe boyfriend of the moment.
But as I found out fast after my son came shrieking into the world, there is really no way of caring for a newborn other than to surrender to the experience. As the old gospel song says, you gotta walk that lonesome valley for yourself – ain’t nobody else gonna walk it for you.
Being alone all day with a baby, I quickly realized, is much easier if you can quiet your mind and go to “the baby place” in your brain. This is a state where you can spend several minutes, and eventually hours, simply laying on the floor and empathizing with your infant by feeling the sun on your face and occasionally thinking, “Oooh, look how my fingers move. I think I might do a poo now.”
Of course, many books will have you believe that to effectively care for a newborn you must spend your days sterilizing, pumping and swaddling according to a strict, incremented schedule, but I didn’t do any of that. I just sort sloped around braless for a few months, silently communing with James’s oceanic ego and changing an endless stream of diapers.
Eventually I went back to work and before I knew it I’d turned into that mother – the one in the supermarket lineup scrolling through work e-mails, snapping at the five-year-old to put down the candy NOW and nearly driving off leaving the baby in the cart.
So I started reading up on the practice of mindful parenting, which incorporates the techniques of mindfulness into family life. There was no shortage of material to choose from: In the past few months alone, several new books have come out on the subject. I started reading the daily tips on The Mindful Parent website and even signed James up for toddler yoga and meditation classes at my local wellness centre.
Much of the advice – effective breathing techniques, strategies to still the racing mind, tips for existing in the moment rather than ruminating about the past or fretting about the future – is stuff I’ve read before. Cultivating stillness is difficult, but it’s also simple.
After all this theory, it was time for practice. I decided to start with one of the most basic exercises on The Mindful Parent blog. The idea is to gather your family together and suggest a minute of silence, and in this way, “insert a pause at a time when everyone is otherwise caught up and engaged in the doing of things.” How sweet, I thought, imagining my stepson Freddie and James clasping hands around the kitchen table and doing cleansing breaths.
I decided Saturday breakfast was my best window of opportunity. First, I made sure my English husband had gone out to buy the paper because, although he is very good at being silent and calm, he has an admittedly low tolerance for what he calls “North American hippy bollocks.” Once Freddie and James were finished munching their muesli, I announced in my best Mary Poppins voice that we were going to play a game called “being silent for one minute.” The boys stared at me in confusion, but I persisted. “Doesn’t that sound fun? So on the count of three we all say nothing and keep very still for one minute. Okay, one, two …”
“BIRD!” James pointed out the window at a squirrel.
Freddie narrowed his eyes and let his spoon clatter in the bowl. “So what do I get if I win?”
“Win what?” I did the Mary Poppins smile again, hoping to dazzle him with my attentive enthusiasm.
Freddie: “The silent game. What’s the prize?”
Me: “The prize is that you get to live in the moment and experience the world without judgment. The prize is being silent. Isn’t that cool?”
Freddie: “The prize can’t be the same as the game, silly.”
Me: “Well the truth is there is no prize because it’s not actually not a game. It’s an exercise for living well.”
Freddie: “So you lied.”
Me: “Not really. More fibbed.”
Freddie: “Miss Mackie says fibbing is just as bad as lying. You have to go on a time out for it.”
Me: “And she’s right.”
Freddie: “Samuel went on a time out just for spitting in Ruby’s ear. He didn’t even fib and he still went on a time out.”
Me: “Thank you for honouring us with that story Freddie. Now could we just try being silent? Just for one minute? Please?”
Freddie: “No fair fibber, you make me go on time outs.”
James (pointing at a passing airplane): “CAR!”
And so I laid down on the floor and went to my baby place, where I felt perfectly present.
Practitioners of Buddhist meditation have reported seeing globes, jewels and little stars during meditation-induced light experiences. The neurobiological explanation for these visions was the subject of a recent study led by Willoughby Britton, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, and Jared Lindahl, professor of religious studies at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology Jan. 3, connects first-hand accounts of these light experiences and reports of them from Buddhist texts to scientific literature on similar light visions that occur during sensory deprivation, perceptual isolation and visual impairment.
Sensory deprivation, or the lack of input to one’s senses, and perceptual isolation, a monotonous form of input, bear similarities to certain meditation practices and can therefore be used to investigate the biology behind these light experiences, Britton said.
Buddhist meditation, said Noah Elbot ’14, a leader of the Brown Meditation Community, includes practices such as breath awareness, repetition of a particular phrase, or concentration on an image in order to bring the mind to the present.
Because the blocking of sensory input is seen in both sensory deprivation and Buddhist meditation, the authors hypothesized that the light experiences may be caused by a spontaneous firing of neurons in response to a lack of input, a phenomenon referred to as homeostatic neuroplasticity, Britton said.
“Neurons have a point of activity that they fire at,” Britton said. “If there is no input, the neurons don’t like that, and they start to fire on their own, causing hallucinations.”
This study is one of the first that attempts to connect data from historical texts and first-hand reports from current meditation practitioners with scientific research.
“While science has been studying meditation as a way of better understanding the brain, it often overlooks the rich information that religious texts have,” Lindahl said. If people examine meditation only from a scientific perspective, their understanding will be limited, he added.
“This is a paper that respects what the humanities have to offer to science,” Britton said. While meditation is being used increasingly as a clinical practice, the tremendous amount of knowledge on meditation is not being communicated to the scientists and clinicians using it, she added.
This sort of interdisciplinary research aligns with Brown’s values, Britton said. “Really bridging humanities (and) science is necessary in order for rich new dialogues to happen.”
Mind over matter is a difficult state to achieve, but according to a new study, meditation might provide some help in getting there.
Research from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, suggests that 30 minutes of daily meditation may help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, pain and depression.
This six-month study, led by Johns Hopkins assistant professor Dr. Madhav Goyal, found that those suffering symptoms of anxiety and depression saw “a small but consistent benefit” after an eight-week week training program in mindfulness meditation.
The research found that this type of meditation, which focuses precise attention to the present moment, had a tangible effect on symptoms of anxiety and depression, especially those associated with a clinical medical condition.
Dr. Goyal explained that while the study focused on the effect of meditation, it also examined the effectiveness of the meditation on symptoms of anxiety and depression. “We compared it to what other studies have found in similar populations using antidepressants, and the effect is about the same,” he says.
The beneficial results of meditation were consistent even when the study allowed for the placebo effect, wherein patients feel better because they perceive they are getting help. However more studies will be needed to determine just how powerful the effects of meditation are for those suffering from anxiety and depression.
Goyal says that one of the benefits of using meditation for medical therapy is that there are no side effects. For people who are already on a medical regimen, this opens up the possibility of treatment – as long as they have the time to learn and the willingness to practice.
Dr. Goyal stressed the importance of having a good instructor who can teach the appropriate techniques, and cautioned that while “historically in the eastern traditions from which these programs have evolved, meditation was not seen as a therapy for health problems – it was a means to gain an insight into one’s life.”
But patients from the study’s 47 clinical trials showed consistent improvement over the course of six months. From those results, meditation presents an intriguing option for those dealing with anxiety symptoms. And it’s open to almost everyone.
“I think future studies are needed to determine which patients would respond and which might not,” Dr. Goyal says. “But for the time being, I think anyone who is interested can try it out.”
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